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Thinking about the future, many of us cannot escape the nagging question of what will happen on this I planet when it runs out of its resources of oil and gas. The obvious solution is to look for the sources of new types of fuel. The popular science magazine Zemlya i Vselennaya (Earth and Universe) has published an article on the subject by an expert in the field Prof. Alexander Portnov, Dr. Sc. (Geol. & Mineral.). He focused on the prospects of using hydrogen*, vast amounts of which are contained in volcanoes. Its active role in volcanic eruptions releases into the atmosphere vast amounts of energy.
As for hydrogen in general, this most widespread element of cosmos, makes up (in the form of plasma) more than 70 percent of the Sun and stars; on the Earth it is included in water, living organisms, coal and oil. And no one could stop and think that volumes of hydrogen can be concentrated in the bowels of our planet. What had been noticed for quite some time is that hydrogen escapes from the depths of the oceans.
In the 1970s Russian scientists put forward a hypothesis about the Earth having not an iron-nickel core, but a "hydrate" one containing super-compressed hydrogen allegedly left from the protoplanetary stage of the Earth formation. But the present state of this core is unknown. It could contain proton plasma which, when saturated with electrons, generates atoms of hydrogen with the release of vast thermal energy. And it is not excluded that the gas thus produced saturates the iron-nickel core-this phenomenon is called occlusion; it is most noticeable in platinum and palladium which can aggregate hydrogen.
And let's not forget that the fusion of two atoms of the latter is also accompanied by the release of vast volumes of heat which can explain the high temperature of plutonic geological processes (naturally, apart from the energy of radioactive decay).
But how do volcanoes "exhale" hydrogen?
Geologists have long paid attention to gas discharges from the Earth through plutonic fractures of the lithos-
* See: S. Muratov, "On the Threshold of the Thermonuclear Era", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2004; B. Sokolov, S. Khudyakov, "Fuel of the Future", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2004; V. Rusanov, "Hydrogen and Hydrogen Energetics", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2004; "Alternative to Traditional Energetics", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2005. - Ed.
phere. This was usually detected by discharges of helium. As we know, there are two isotopes of that element: helium-3 (preserved since the time of the formation of this planet) and helium-4 (radiogenic, generated during decay of the nuclei of uranium and thorium). The former is concentrated in fracture zones on the border of the oceanic and continental crust. Its levels there are thousands of times greater than in continental rocks. This shift of iso-
Diagram of formation of a chain of volcanoes by lifting to the surface of our planet of plutonic heat (dotted line)over the foci of the molten earth crust where hydrogen can accumulate.
topic ratios attests to the fact that the gas is escaping from the mantle. Rising from there and accumulating somewhere is hydrogen. Its potential "birth places" are volcanoes. Specialists have long been studying these rocks, but pay little attention to the gases which accompany eruptions. And this is easy to understand-since they are incan-descently hot, it is difficult to obtain and analyze their samples and it is much simpler to do that with solidified silicate melt. And the volumes of hydrogen escaping from a volcano are hundreds and thousands of times greater than the mass of lava pouring from the crater.
Its high activity is the reason why it is not released in a pure form. But studies of geologists indicate that located under volcanoes are colossal "pillars" of hot plastic matter tens and hundreds of kilometers in diameter; they are rising to the surface of the planet from the boundary between the liquid core and the lower mantle. As established by scientists, the upper one is solid and has temperature of 600°C. So, what is the source of that great temperature which produces that boiling silicate melt? So far we have no exact answer to this question. The elements generating heat in the mantle (uranium and thorium) are practically absent-their amounts there are thousands of times smaller than in the earth's crust. Apparently the melting of rocks is connected with powerful exothermal reactions of oxidation of hydrogen taking place in the mouths of craters.
The staggering energy of this process is catastrophically heating the atmosphere and generates panic among people. We all know of the tragedies of Pompeii Herculanum and Stabia which were destroyed by eruptions of Mount Vesuvius (south of Italy) in 79 A.D. In 1883 there was a catastrophic explosion of the Krakatau volcano in the Sunda Strait (between Java and Sumatra) when 18 km3 of rock was blown into the air. These were accompanied by thousands of cubic kilometers of gas which filled the atmosphere and considerably weakened the flow of solar radiation to this planet. Or take the tragedy of St. Pierre on Martinique which was burnt down with its 30,000 residents during the eruption of Mont Pelee volcano in 1902.
And all one has to do in order to use this colossal planetary energy in the interests of mankind is to drill inclined wells under the regularly functioning volcanoes and attach pipes to the existing gas pipelines. The problem consists in "intercepting" the unoxidized mantle gas before its explosion.
Russia has some unique experience of drilling super-deep wells: in the 1990s a world record of more than 12.26 km was established on the Kola Peninsula which remains unsurpassed to this day*, although such depths are not required for "penetrating" into volcanoes. Nevertheless, there are no simple technical solutions in such cases because of the aggressiveness of the gases, high temperatures and pressures. However, every eruption means 4 - 6 bn m3 of combustible raws in which hydrogen predominates. This gas, wasted today, can provide the basis of ecologically "clean" energetics of the future.
A. Portnov, "Volcanoes-Sources of Energetics of the Future", Zemlya i Vselennaya, No. 5, 2005
Prepared by Yaroslav RENKAS
* See: V. Kazansky et. al., "Superdeep Borehole on Kola: Well of Discoveries", Science in Russia, No. 5, 1998. - Ed.
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